By Adam Clemons
In early July of 1873, a soldier named John Taylor reported to the hospital at Fort Stockton, Texas complaining of illness. The fort’s doctor, Peter J.A. Cleary, refused to treat him. Instead, he sent Taylor to the guard house as punishment. Three days later John Taylor was dead. Taylor’s fellow soldiers, incensed by what they believed to be racially motivated medical neglect by Cleary, drafted a statement detailing the patterns of abusive treatment of Taylor and calling for a formal investigation into his death. The officers at Fort Stockton responded by placing twenty-one of the soldiers who signed the letter, mostly non-commissioned officers, on trial for attempted mutiny. Though the charge was ultimately downgraded to a failure to follow proper procedure, twenty out of the twenty-one charged soldiers were dishonorably discharged and sent to prison in Huntsville, Texas.
In “Sympathy for the Loss of a Comrade: Black Citizenship and the 1873 Fort Stockton ‘Mutiny’,” Nick Eskow successfully reconstructed the events at Fort Stockton using library resources such as period publications, government documents, newspapers, and archival collections. Where others have relied on the accounts of the white officers to tell this story, Eskow sought out the perspective of the black soldiers through extensive research and analysis of the historical record. Eskow’s exceptional effort earned him the prestigious 2018 Charlene Conrad Liebau Library Prize for Undergraduate Research, an annual prize awarded to students who have done high-level, course-based research while demonstrating significant use of the Library’s resources.
Eskow’s research is also the subject of the rotating Library Prize Exhibit, located on the second floor of Doe Library between Heyns Reading Room and Reference Hall. Drawing on collections held at UC Berkeley, Fort Stockton, Texas, and the National Archives in Washington, D.C., the exhibit displays some of the documents Eskow used to capture the voice of the black soldiers including a digital version of the original petition letter, which includes a few pages of soldiers’ signatures to show the “X” marks by many names. These marks, meant to stand for “his mark,” indicates that many of the soldiers, who were former slaves, could not sign their names and implies that they could neither read nor write. Other documents on display include an 1868 copy of S.V. Benet’s A Treatise on Military Law and Practice of Courts-Martial, which was repeatedly cited by the white officers at Fort Stockton to support their charge against the black soldiers as well as a detailed timeline of the events at Fort Stockton from the death of John Taylor to the sentencing of the twenty soldiers who signed the petition letter.
The Charlene Conrad Liebau Library Prize for Undergraduate Research is awarded annually to UC Berkeley undergraduates. Any course-based research projects completed at UC Berkeley during the award year are eligible. In addition to a monetary prize for winners – $750 for lower division and $1000 for upper division – award recipients as well as honorable mentions will publish their research in eScholarship, the University of California’s open access publishing platform. Two of the winners are also be featured in an exhibit in the Library.
The exhibit – which was curated by Adam Clemons, Librarian for African and African American Studies, and designed by Aisha Hamilton, Exhibits and Environmental Graphics Coordinator – will be up until November 2019.